Monday, September 26, 2011

Purple rain, purple rain: PC exits the Labyrinth

Chris and I had spoken about not doing a Lab post this year; while in transit I really struggled with all the feelings I was having, and knew I needed to get this all off my chest. So: apologies for the mixed messages, but here it is, from the PC perspective.

In one sense, to get on a plane in 2011 is nothing. It’s what 'we' do: when our friends decide to get married in India; when our lovers beckon us from Buenos Aires; when our colleagues intimate our attendance is required at conferences in Helsinki; or when we just want to go shopping in New York. Sometimes we think nothing of it.

In another sense, this is extraordinary, and 'we' forget how much so (but let's not forget the we that can get on the plane, the we that can forget). How few of us look out the windows of the planes we fly on, and consider the miracle of modernity, one of the only modernities that unambiguously works - accidents are anomalies. When I think of civil aviation, and how it works, and how well it works, and how extraordinary it is to fly across the world and look at the window at clouds over Siberia, or sunrise over the Pacific Ocean, and come in over Sydney or Tokyo, I think of everything we might actually be capable of, and a future that my grandfather, who was an electrical engineer who worked on the Lancaster bomber, the Concorde, and then for Qantas, would have wanted for me. He even would have wanted those strange breakfast sausages for me. He would have wanted me to be proud of them, that they came hot to my tray table at 35,000 feet, and were actually quite tasty, whatever is actually in them. As part of the future.

I went to Japan for the future in 2002, because Tokyo was the future, because techno was the future. I wanted to fall in love with the future, like the romantic modernist I remain. I wrote about how that worked out last year. This year, returning to the labyrinth provoked some very fucking heavy feelings in me, full spectrum. I want to tell you all about some of them, those that I can – I hope without boring you or being self indulgent. I have to write this post very quickly, before I lose the courage and momentum to say what I feel as well as I can.

Lab provokes. For me this fundamentally is what ‘the labyrinth’ has done, which is what labyrinths tend do to. I don’t mean to say by this that ‘the labyrinth’ is ‘for me’, or that I had some kind of stupid hippy experience by which I found ‘the real me’ while off my tits up a mountain. The whiskey tends to do that, but it passes - thankfully. I just mean that it makes you want to get to the centre of it, however confusing that is, whatever monsters might be there. But we’ll get to the monster later. First things first.

PC & Lab

I said it and I mean it: to get on a plane is nothing; to get on a plane is everything. You go somewhere and nothing happens, or something happens and nothing will ever be the same, quite the same. Last year I said how it started in 2005, my first lab, at the bottom of things. As I wrote: ‘penniless, rudderless, emptied out, sobered up, but well aware of where I actually was.’ This year I was ‘full’, but the fullness was also a realization of how thoroughly all that had passed into the past tense. My name wasn’t on the list at the door, I was like a ghost. Bucketing rain down, nobody recognizing me. It was a careless mistake; it was totally apt. Then Chris came along and rescued me from non recognition, I paid my money, and went in.

PC @ Lab

The sound system was just as magnificent. The drinks were poured just as strong. The rain poured much harder. My raincoat and gore tex hat and approach shoes, they worked for a while. After that it was just wet, and I and everyone else outside the artists’ tent was wet. There was something so glorious about standing in the rain half way up a mountain, with the purple lights facing the Funktion 1s. You can stare at them until they look like Polynesian masks. And stare I did. On the second day the sun came out. Then on the third day the rain returned, and it rained so hard we got skin soaked. We punched the air in time with the kick drum. I was shivering cold, whiskey hot; I got fall down drunk in the afternoon, quite shamefully. I think JP was in worse condition (sorry, JP, mea culpa). The rain seemed there to teach us all a lesson. I breathed easier thinking it was rain coming from the south, not the north.

Lab as Lab

Lab these days means so much to so many people. Perhaps too much. Perhaps it’s overdetermined now. As I see it, the first risk would be asking too much of something that has already given so much. The second would be to tweak formulas, to try to eek perfection out of something through a subtle number of small adjustments. The worst risk would be to just keep going, to pretend that time wasn’t passing and that things hadn’t changed. Time is passing and things have changed. Probably Labyrinth should just disband now while things are still so good. Probably Labyrinth could keep going for another decade without altering the formula much, and it would still be amazing, especially for the first timers. That might be a mistake, but what would I know? It’s not up to me to say. That’s a question for the people who are involved in the future of labyrinth, and I am not one of them. I met a guy from Fukushima there, who’d still made it down for the party, in spite of everything. We shared a guilty cigarette and joked a little about risk, as we were smoking, right to the limits of my Japanese. Which only took ten minutes. An improvement on last year of three minutes.

Lab & Japan

People bring their babies and kids to Labyrinth, which I think is wonderful and totally appropriate – except for that one girl who took her two year old to the bassbin, that's irresponsible. Kids love techno. Fact. You should see ‘em dance. They fucking love it. Dance, magic, dance... But it was impossible for me to look at all the kids around me at Labyrinth this year and not think. All this on the dance floor:

Japan took modernity at its word and built the future. They fucking did it. Biosphere’s album from this year is actually very boring, but the concept behind it nails the tragedy of our audacity when it is placed in the hands of corrupt old men. We set up this extraordinarily powerful thing, and leave it for our children and grandchildren as a toxic legacy. We can’t handle the truth. Or if we do, we die. All the sets I heard at labyrinth were delivered to us via electricity, the extraordinary along with the ordinary, the ambitious, the pretentious, the dull, and the damned fucking perfect (you’d know which was which if you were there, and if you weren’t, some guy from the usual suspects will tell you what opinion to have – Dirty Harry was right, opinions are like assholes). Was that electricity nuclear? So many people heard the sets; so many of you I talked to differed in your opinions about those sets. How many of you paused and considered where that electricity came from, and what the consequences of that are? Maybe it’s coal or gas or oil in Niigata, I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don't know. None of us know, not enough, not enough to make informed decisions. This is part of the problem.

Don’t just think this is ‘Japan’ I’m talking about. I’m talking about you. I do know: the consequences of our shared technofuture are utterly frightening; we are utterly unprepared and don’t know what to do; and life goes on regardless. It has to. Lab really taught me this, this year. I hope we have the courage for this century. We are going to need it. People bring their babies to Labyrinth. And will continue to do so. This is cause for both despair and great hope. Mostly hope, actually. This is my intuition.

Japan and the Technofuture

When I first moved to Japan, I lived very close to the ward’s rubbish incinerator. Probably too close. I knew about the dioxin levels in the breastmilk in Saitama. Still I dutifully separated the ‘moeru gomi’ from the ‘moenai gomi’, for three years of my life. I trusted, in spite of some niggling good sense, that ‘they’ were likewise dutiful in their concern, and that ‘they’ took care to only burn those things which, when burnt, contain toxins. Toxins that poison the future. It was only when I returned from Lab this year, in Tokyo, that my friend told me: they were always burning the rubbish. All the rubbish. They staggered the announcements across Tokyo’s wards, in order to avert civil unrest. In spite of my cynicism, this struck me. I felt totally betrayed, duped. And remembered: there is no 'them'. But I knew that already, after Marysville. But I had forgotten. We forget. But don't forget. Don't forget three things: 1) 'they' lie. 2) 'they' don't exist. 3) There is only 'us'.

Theseus (aka PC) v. Minotaur (aka PC), 2011. Final score: love all

Lab is one of the greatest things we are capable of. Lab gathers elements from around the world, relying on civil aviation, electricity, human creativity and sociability, and that peculiar proclivity that we share: we understand the groove. And we love it. And I am very proud of it, proud of everyone for making it so good. I love it. I want it. Think of my grandfather the engineer, who dutifully and carefully contributed to the manufacture of aircraft. He did his job well, and because he was an engineer (and not a politician or a bureaucrat or any of the corrupt old men) the things he built actually worked. Planes fly. During the war, he contributed to the building of planes intended to annihilate an enemy. He kept the bomb release unit from one of the Lancasters involved in the bombing of Germany under the house, and was proud of it. He helped make the bomb release. As a child I was proud of his pride; it was only later I realised what he had done. Too late, then, and gone. And over. Then, after the war he contributed to the manufacturing of planes that made the world in which we live, mostly for the better. Aviation that was and is civil. Like him, we are capable of being involved in both these makings; what we involve ourself in, it matters. It has mass. And inertia. We have the makings of gods and of monsters.

At the centre of every labyrinth is a monster. To every year its labyrinth, to every labyrinth its monster. But a monster is nothing to be frightened of. When we have the courage to stare it in the eye, we see it for what it is: just a distorted version of ourselves. There is only us, after all. 1+2 = ‘They’ don’t exist, there is no ‘them’. Either we’re flying this plane, or no one is. It’s our future to make. I confess I find this extraordinarily daunting to admit. It does frighten me. I am not sure I have the strength to take responsibility for what I admit to be the truth about the twenty first century in which we actually live. But then: I took a tiny risk and got on a plane. But then I got on another plane, so - easy for me to say. My heart goes out to my friends in Japan, the country that I love, and to the future that I want to make together, still, in spite of everything. Thank you.


  1. Nice one, Descartes, shagged a bird then, did ya ;-)

  2. Fair play for posting what it meant to you. My life has been changed considerably by taking ownership of profound things that have happened to me when the music really turns me inside out.

  3. so who exactly was ordinary, pretentious, and dull?

  4. @ Todd H: I guess you just had to be there...

  5. Speaking of labyrinths, monsters and getting broken, your post reminds me of Borges: "I saw the populous sea, saw dawn and dusk, saw the multitude of the Americas, saw a silvery spider-web at the center of a black pyramid, saw a broken labyrinth (it was London), saw endless eyes...saw a woman in Inverness whom I shall never forget, saw her violent hair, her haughty body, saw a cancer in her breast ... saw the circulation of my dark blood, saw the coils and springs of love and the alterations of death, saw the Aleph from everywhere at once, saw the earth in the Aleph ..."

  6. Like air travel, don't take live music and all its highs (and lows I suppose) for granted. From one for whom music is experienced solely through recordings I read these posts with relish. As you both point out here there's a lot more to live music than live music - thanks PC for letting me enjoy by proxy.

    As for Japan I owe it my formative musical years too, sadly a few years too early for Labyrinth. I long to go back and see how it looks and sounds now - I'm sure it continues to value sound and music in a different manner to Western countries.


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